WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Ranking Member of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, entered the following statement into the Congressional Record this week to mark the second anniversary of the disappearance of 43 students in Guerrero, Mexico:
“Mr. President, I rise today to observe the second anniversary of the forced disappearance of 43 students in the Mexican state of Guerrero, a tragedy that continues to haunt the students’ families and friends. I also rise to speak to the endemic challenges posed by cases of missing and disappeared persons across Mexico, and to appeal to President Peña Nieto and Mexico’s political leaders to be more responsive and transparent on this critical issue.
“On the evening of September 26, 2014, in a series of events that the New York Timeshas characterized as a ‘night of terror’, local police from the town of Iguala turned their weapons on the civilian population and colluded with the criminal organization known as the Guerreros Unidos to target and terrorize students from the Escuela Normal Rural Raúl Isidro Burgos, which is a teachers’ college. By the end of that night, six people were killed, 25 were injured, and 43 students were forcibly “disappeared” in a tragic story that has echoed around the globe.
“As links between the U.S. and Mexico abound, and given the more than 33 million Mexican-Americans and Mexicans residing in the United States, the disappearance of the 43 students has been felt deeply throughout our country.
“Whether it’s in California, Texas, Arizona, Illinois, New York or Maryland, almost all of our States are home to large, dynamic Mexican-American communities that remain in contact with friends and families throughout Mexico. Many of our constituents have direct and personal ties to the tragedy that took place in Iguala and the broader crisis of unresolved disappearances in Mexico.
“In the two years since the disappearance of the 43 students, it is important to recognize that there have been critical advances in the investigations. Moreover, I want to recognize the Government of Mexico’s decision to work with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) to create an Interdisciplinary Group of Independent Experts (GIEI, by its initials in Spanish), which has provided invaluable technical assistance for the investigation as well as key recommendations to strengthen ongoing investigative efforts.
“It’s imperative to note, however, that the GIEI faced repeated obstacles such as restricted access to key documents and individuals, and found significant inconsistencies in the Mexican government’s investigation, including incidents of mishandled evidence.
“It’s also important to note that the Experts found evidence which indicates that members of the federal and state police may have joined the local police in colluding with the criminal organizations involved in the disappearance of the students. In addition, members of the Mexican Army’s 27th Battalion were discovered to have been at the scene of the crime and closely involved in the fatal events of that night. And we cannot overlook the fact that two full years after the students’ disappearance, there has not been a single criminal conviction in the case.
“For these reasons, I urge President Peña Nieto and his administration to take all necessary steps to make operational a special follow-up mechanism for the investigation the IACHR established in July. This follow-up mechanism will include two IACHR-appointed advisors responsible for working with Mexican authorities and monitoring further action on the Group of Experts’ recommendations.
“Continued progress on this case is critical. My staff has met directly with the families of the 43 students, and we cannot let their call for justice end in impunity. So whether it includes pursuing new leads, discarding flawed theories, granting broader access to case files, or removing officials who have obstructed the investigation, I appeal to President Peña Nieto and his administration to ensure that the investigation has the full political backing and sufficient resources to achieve the needed results.
“I also want to speak to how the case of the 43 students is representative of the endemic challenge of missing and disappeared peoples across Mexico. According to its own statistics, since 2007, the Mexican government has documented more than 28,000 cases of missing and disappeared people. In fact, in the months after the students’ disappearance, as investigators and families of disappeared persons fanned out across Guerrero state, they encountered numerous mass graves of victims of unknown crimes and carnage. So the resolution of this case is particularly symbolic as it would give hope to the thousands of Mexican families who have relatives who have disappeared.
“I want to recognize President Peña Nieto’s decision to submit draft legislation last December for a General Law to Prevent and Punish the Crime of Disappearances, which would establish obligations for federal, state, and local authorities and improve coordination across jurisdictions. I appeal to Members of the Mexican Senate and Chamber of Deputies to pass this important legislation. By prioritizing this issue and providing increased budgetary, forensic, and technological resources, Mexican authorities can ensure justice for the tens of thousands of Mexican families who have suffered the disappearance of a friend or loved one.
“Finally, I want to call upon the State Department and our Embassy in Mexico City to use their diplomatic discussions with the Mexican government to offer all relevant assistance and to underscore the importance of learning the truth about the disappearance of the 43 students and the broader issue of missing and disappeared people. We must stand ready to support of our Mexican partners as they pursue justice in these critical cases, which have touched the lives of too many Mexicans and, in turn, our constituents here in the United States.